TECH
03/09/2013 07:56 BST | Updated 02/11/2013 09:12 GMT

Meteor Impact 'Triggered Dawn Of Civilisation'

Hollywood loves to point out the likelihood that a meteor will end up destroying civilisation. But it turns out that a meteor might have caused it to exist in the first place.

Evidence indicates the 'dawn of civilisation' occurred shortly after an asteroid or comet struck Quebec around 12,900 years ago.

Scientists believe the impact caused a transition to a colder, drier climate around the world which had far-reaching effects.

In North America, big animals including mastodons, camels, giant ground sloths and sabre-toothed cats all vanished, while their human hunters turned to a subsistence diet of roots, berries and smaller game.

Meanwhile thousands of miles away in the eastern Mediterranean, the first farmers started growing cereals.

The invention of agriculture was a pivotal step in the development of large settled communities and civilisation.

Experts agree on the climate change that marked the start of the Younger Dryas period, but are divided about its cause.

The new research is said to provide "conclusive" evidence that the trigger was a meteor impact.

Before now the most popular explanation has been an ice dam rupture releasing huge amounts of freshwater into the Atlantic.

This in turn was thought to have shut down ocean currents moving warm tropical water, resulting in colder conditions.

Scientists analysed spherules, droplets of solidified molten rock, deposited in Pennsylvania and New Jersey at the start of the Younger Dryas period.

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Above: Undated handout image issued by the University of Wisconsin showing an artist's rendition of mastodons, camels and a ground sloth before the environmental changes of the Younger Dryas led to their extinction

They identified geochemical "fingerprints" exactly matching the profiles of rock found in southern Quebec.

Although no "smoking gun" crater had been found, this was a strong clue that the spherules had been created by the massive temperatures and pressures of a meteor impact in Canada.

The findings appear in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Professor Mukul Sharma, one of the study authors from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, US, said: "The Younger Dryas cooling impacted human history in a profound manner.

"Environmental stresses may also have caused Natufians in the Near East to settle down for the first time and pursue agriculture."